Education / Schools

How much prestige does your school serve?

How far are we from getting real answers about the value proposition of going to law school? Pretty far, if you read the New York Times Week in Review. An article by Jacques Steinberg illustrates that researchers don’t even really know if receiving an elite undergraduate education is worth the price.

The Times asks: Is going to an elite college worth the cost? And it comes up with this answer: “It depends.” Thanks NYT. Is mainstream, old media publishing dying a slow death? It depends on how many people want to read articles like this on their Kindles.

Oh, I kid, Grey Lady. It’s not particularly satisfying, but the article provides support for believing whatever it is you believed before you read the article. Do you think that going to the most prestigious school that will accept you is the better long-term choice for your career? Great, you’re right. Do you think that, depending on your family situation, going to a cheaper state school is the right choice for you? Great, right again. Do you think that successful people will succeed? Awesome! The Times likes circles too.

Yay, everybody made the right decision. And since most of the research was done on people who made college choices ten years ago, the ridiculous inflation in the cost of education only makes it more obvious that people should do the right thing — whatever the hell that might be….

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Columbia Professor David Epstein

We know that part of the appeal of Ivy League schools is the incestuous nature of the high-end job market. People like to hire their own, and if successful Ivy League graduates prefer to work with or mentor fellow Ivy League alums, then the whole Ivy system becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

See, it’s fun to talk about “incest” when you are using the word to make a creative intellectual analogy. It’s much less fun to use the word incest when you are talking about… incest. Revoltingly, David Epstein, a political science professor at Columbia University who also occasionally teaches legal seminars, has been accused of having a consensual sexual relationship with his 24-year-old daughter. According to the New York Daily News, Epstein has been charged with a single count of felony incest.

Epstein is (or perhaps “was”) popular with his students. He was also a news commentator and occasional blogger on the Huffington Post.

I’m find myself wishing he was accused of having inappropriate sex with one of his college-aged students, or using an escort service, or having sex with donkeys, or something other than allegedly doing it with his daughter. Because that’s just a gross perversion of nature.

And now I have to make jokes about it….

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Yesterday, University of Delaware President Patrick Harker announced that the university is thinking about founding a law school. It would be Delaware’s first public law school — Widener Law School is a private institution.

It will be some time before the proposed law school is ready for approval by the Delaware Board of Trustees. Law school advocates need to do a feasibility study and submit a business plan to see if the state can afford the new school. Nobody requires the law school to submit any kind of “business plan” for how graduates of the proposed law school will get jobs that pay enough to cover their debt burdens. Once again, graduate outcomes are completely ancillary to the discussion of whether or not a new law school makes sense.

If they jump through all of the hoops, the president hopes the new law school will be up and running by the fall of 2015. Harker’s letter to the University of Delaware community makes it sound like he hopes the new law school will be one of the legacies of his administration.

The legacy of future graduates from Delaware Law is not something anybody seems to give a damn about…

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Last spring, Duke Law students had a fit because Duke undergrads were taking up valuable space in the law library. I admit, I enjoy having a little bit of fun with Duke Law students (haters gotta hate), but I’m with them on this one.

Undergraduates have two or three libraries (or maybe more, I don’t know if Duke is one of those schools where every major department has a library in its campus headquarters) where they can go play footsie and pretend to study. Or they can go to the business school library (the MBA kids are all at the bar “networking”) or the medical school library (the would-be doctors are busy being bought by drug companies or conducting unnecessary tests).

But at the law library people need to work. You can’t learn the law without spending a lot of time quietly reading the opinions of old white men (shut up “law firms,” nobody spends three years and $100K to learn practical lawyering skills). Those cases aren’t going to brief themselves! Law students need a quiet environment to think deeply and prepare for the eight hours of terrified regurgitation to come.

It looks like the administrators of Duke finally got the message…

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We don’t cover Touro Law School a lot on these pages because frankly it would just be mean. The school, located in New York, is ranked fourth tier by U.S. News, and that’s probably generous. The school charges $40,000 a year which is just… I mean… Well, “crime, boy I don’t know.”

Its reputation just isn’t the best. I had drinks with a St. John’s Law graduate once, and after calling me an “elitist prick” she said, without a hint of irony, “Great lawyers can come from anywhere, Elie. We’re not talking about Touro here, we’re talking about real, legitimate law schools that you overlook.”

Fair enough. But really, there’s no reason to look at Touro Law differently than any number of law schools the ABA allows to run around doing their thing. At least, there was no reason until today, when the New York Post unleashed a scathing report which they probably stole from someone else without giving credit that detailed the shenanigans of the late Bernard Lander, the president of Touro College, who was apparently the best paid university president in the country.

While the allegations focus on the college and not the law school, the taint on Touro is terrible….

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There is nothing I hate more than people who try to use the law to change the facts of history or science. I hate when Creationists try to take their Sunday School teachings into science class. I hate when Confederates try to retell the “War of Northern Aggression” in a way that ignores the abject racism that started the entire conflict. And I hate when parents sue because history textbooks aren’t sanitized to include enough bunny rabbits and rainbows when they are educating children about slavery.

That last thing is new. I only realized parents like this existed when I read a story in the Macomb Daily (gavel bang: ABA Journal). Apparently an African-American parent got angry over “outrageous statements” in a textbook used in his daughter’s class. The outrage: the textbook used the n-word… in the context of teaching children about the history of slavery in this country.

He claims his daughter was traumatized by the book, and he’s seeking more than $25,000 damages from the school.

Please God, let’s hope he doesn’t get it. Everybody should be “traumatized” by slavery when they first hear about it in grade school. It was a goddamn traumatic thing to put people through. And we can’t live in a world where that trauma is banished from our history books….

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Constance McMillen

Constance McMillen, the gay teen who was barred from taking her girlfriend to prom and then invited to a sham prom, will get her attorney fees.

It’s not a huge amount of money, but maybe the message is more important? U.S. District Judge Glen H. Davidson ordered McMillen’s Mississippi school district to pay about $81,000. Even though the school district canceled the prom, McMillen was still entitled to attorney fees because she was the prevailing plaintiff in a civil rights case.

Let’s hope $81,000 gets the attention of school districts in Mississippi and elsewhere. At the very least, that’s got to be more than they usually spend on prom. Maybe they’ll figure out it’s cheaper to let their gay students party with whomever they want.

Judge awards legal fees in Miss. lesbian prom case [Associated Press via ABA Journal]

Earlier: You Can Dance If You Want To (Unless You’re a Lesbian)

As we mentioned in our response to the recent Above the Law boycott — which is apparently over, happily — cyberbullying is a serious problem. But dealing with it, especially in legal terms, raises serious questions.

Is criminalizing cyberbullying the best solution? If so, how should the law define cyberbullying? What role should be played by exiting laws, e.g., hate crime statutes?

We’re liveblogging a national conference call on cyberbullying, sponsored by the National LGBT Bar Association, which started at 2:30 p.m.

Join us, after the jump….

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Earlier this week, a story in the National Law Journal (subscription) reported that the Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law is weaning itself off of public funding and trying to become self-sufficient on private dollars. Towards that end, ASU will be raising tuition and admitting more law students.

I wanted to wait until I calmed down before I posted on it, but it doesn’t look like that is going to happen. So I broke into the Bronx Zoo this morning and stole some elephant tranquilizers. I’m going to shoot up and finish this post, now.

[Mmm... serenity...]

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Here’s seemingly every affirmative action conversation I’ve had since I started working at Above the Law:

PLEBES: Affirmative action is racist — reverse-racist. It lets an under-qualified minority get into a school I deserved to get into, just because of their skin color! And why? Because 100 years ago things were tough for blacks? Not fair! [Some quote from Justice Roberts I'll care about the minute I care about what an aging white man thinks about racial harmony in America.]
ELIE: Actually, affirmative action can be justified by simply pointing out that diversity of thought and experience is essential when it comes to educating people.
PLEBES: It should be about merit! [Quotes standardized test statistics as if the LSAT is both objective and a standard of merit.] If you get a higher score on a test, you should get in over someone who gets a lower score. That’s merit!
ELIE: But we know that universities look at all sorts of things when considering applicants. They look at whether you have any other talents like sports or music. They look at legacy status…
PLEBES: [Foaming at the mouth now] Legacies are an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT THING. We’re talking about discrimination based on RACE. That’s ILLEGAL!

But maybe people shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss concerns about legacy admissions. According to Richard D. Kahlenberg, editor of a new book called Affirmative Action for the Rich: Legacy Preferences in College Admissions, legacy admissions are bad policy — and potentially unconstitutional…

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